Friday, July 31, 2009

So differently same.....

There are covered wagons, and covered wagons.

Some, pulled by wild horses, carrying entire families across the Sierra Nevadas , brought entire generations into the warm folds of the sunny state of California. Some to prospect for gold, some to see a new sunrise in their lives.

Some wagons, of course, are also made of tough metal, substitute horse power for horses, and basically fly across oceans, taking off from far away lands. Bringing folks to the cooler climes of California. There is gold of a different type, with Intel Inside and Silicon valley outside. And those that have come till now, continue to see new sunrises in their lives.

Three generations ago, my great grandfather travelled from our native village in the Konkan region on India's west coast, to seek a new life in Mumbai. Leaving behind some, taking some, as he travelled, sometimes on foot, sometimes by boat, and most of the times by bullock cart , to get to Mumbai, clutching a single piece of old luggage, and a clutch of some basic rural food, packed by worried folks. The folks , earlier settled in Mumbai, helped him through the hard times, and a new branch of the family came into being.

Migration continues today, and our State Transport buses, always referred to as the ST buses , are now the preferred medium. Bus stations, always studded with waiting people, people rushing towards buses, passing in luggage through windows to folks already inside, an empty enquiry counter, and old lady tightly wrapping her saree end around her face, clutching her little cloth bag, as she herds the grand kids into the seat along side her, the man of the house, stepping out to buy some cucumbers for the kids , a special treat ; several sinewy types, half up on the ladder leading o the luggage rack on top, making light of all kinds of complicated stuff being loaded up, and someone running in last minute to board a bus with a flapping entrance door as the driver honks to indicate a departure.....

Nothing has changed. Just the vehicle. Mumbai's airport is chock a block with Indians flying the Pacific route; students, some flying for the first time , some who have never known any other mode of transport, newly married types, some folks flying in to be there for the birth of their first grandchild, grandparents flying in , suitably wrapped against the cold. The anticipation, the anxiety, the sense of going to a new place, the adventure , is the same. The crush inside the plane, calling out to children given seats , strangely far way from their parents, , small babies cribbing in protest against the chaos, and changing cabin pressure. Bemused folks from other lands, join in taking their places , accepting the change they see, and get back to whatever they were doing.

Transit points and procedures dot along the way, and on arrival, the same crowd. Its once again awash in the diaspora; all emerging , some wide eyed, some smug, and some just plain tired with a long 22 hour journey , stepping forward into the future, yet backward by half a day in real time.

On a short visit from India, I am here to attend a family event. A few days later I accompany my brother to a local electronics store where he needs to pick up something he has ordered. There are many young folks, the IT generation, browsing through things, some buying, some with stars in their eyes, but most of whom I would have normally seen , say at a similar place in Mumbai.

There is a very nice gentleman , silver haired , with a twinkle in his eyes, handling the queries and showing you stuff. Something is not the color that is ordered. He says to check in a day, and they will have it.

We nod and smile. He says a few words in Marathi (my mother tongue), and my brother replies. he smiles. I read the name on his badge. I smile. I could be in Mumbai.

And then we walk out of the entrance. After showing the receipt to another gentleman , who checks, smiles, and wishes us . I seek out the name on his badge. He is from points south of Mumbai. (we folks have this amazing ability to guess and ascertain this)

I have come full circle. The globalization is complete.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The wandering mind stops.....

This blog and I need to take a break for a while.....for reasons below. Skimming through the Asian monsoon , looking down on the Australian winter, as one follows the North American summer into the approaching Fall.....the world is indeed a wonderful place....

Crowded thoughts at the taking off on a journey. Missing some. Remembering some. Voices , calls, and all is peace again.....

Their Children,
then grand ones happen;
They thrive, immersed
in the trials
and tribulations of the ,
living of these.
Sometimes wiping tears,
sometimes indulgent,
sighing in content.

And soon,
the heart is deaf
to the will of the mind;
It is time to go
and they leave
those they
have cherished;
Having watched them grow
through the mist
of days gone by,
boys to men,
girls to women.

in far off lands
as another set of folks
step out to
begin their own lives,
Oceans away,
here in their own land
the rain has cleared
the clouds part
urged along by the wind
like a curtain at a heavenly window;
There is a light,
I look up,
and see them there.

"Go forth"
they say,
pointing the path,
"We will be with you
in every prayer recited,
every song sung,
every delicacy served,
and every flower
that will adorn
the garlanded necks."

As I get off
the bird that flies me,
I sense fingers,
at the shoulders.
They watch
those who have come
to receive me,
smile to themselves,
happy at the
and nudge each other,
watching their youngest
bustle around
His sister has come.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tidal tales

If I were a tide off the coast of Mumbai, I would be mortified with the amount of hype , about my alleged activities on the three days July 24-26, 2009, after the great scare engineered by by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, hitherto referred to as MCGM. .

The MCGM, is currently burdened with a lopsided weight distribution. It tries to control things all over Mumbai, sitting at one far corner of the city, concentrating all the power with itself, as powerless officials, pretend to be locally in charge, and deal with enraged citizens. For years together, road contractors would salivate at the thought of monsoon road surfacing, where all you did was fill potholes , with more emphasis on "potholes" than "fill" . Then came the garbage and plastic age, that coincided with the illegal construction age, and old river estuaries that ran through the city to empty themselves into the sea, suddenly realized the meaning of
meander, and got so heavy with trash, that nothing got emptied into the sea.

Massive monsoon flooding of July 2005 had the MCGM on the back foot.

So , this year, from early March and April, they started hyping the fact that on
July 24-26 , Mumbai would be having the highest tides it had seen in the last 100 years. How big ? Close to 5.5 metres. Tables appeared in newspapers, outlining "dangerous days" in this monsoon season, when these huge tides would wash over Mumbai, at amazingly accurate times like 1:13 pm etc.

The chaos when combined with a slightly heavier monsoon rain on those days was used to create a fear in the minds of the citizenry. Schools declared holidays, Mumbai University, postponed exams, some companies worked the previous weekend and declared these days off. While ground floor residents of areas that always flood , regardless of tides, routinely shifted their belongings to neighbor's houses above, this scare forced several people into panic mode and stuff was hurriedly moved here and there.

Every few days , there would be a news item of "
MCGM monsoon preparedness" in the newspapers. Pumps installed, ditches cleaned , disaster cell phone numbers displayed, fire brigade on call, extra guards deployed.

While we don't mention the fact that lots of usual inconvenient flooding happened few days earlier with normal monsoon rain, and lesser tidal heights,
what was not mentioned in this Tidal Hype, was that these kind of big tides happen every year. Mostly in and around November, due to the earths planetary position.

The Port Office of Mumbai publishes tide tables which I have been checking , and tides of 4.5 metres happen all the time. They even happened last month, and possibly even last week.

Waves crashing at sea side walls and dissipating high up in the air is a routine activity at seashores where greedy folks have appropriated land , constructed walls and jutting promontories, sprinkled concrete tetra pods alongside, and built bunds. For years and years, folks have been making monsoon visits to these places to enjoy the massive waves that crash in and overflow the barricades, like boiling milk overflowing all over the stove base. There are so many pictures taken over the years, say, at the
Gateway of India, opposite the Taj Mahal hotel, showing water cascading on to the road by the sea, and that was then designated as the charm of the monsoon.

It has occurred to me that this year, the MCGM may have decided to alter its approach. The smell of tar and bulldozers, and pumps, and visions of people pushing stalled cars in hip deep water , had been overdone.

And so they took the help of the Bard. The Right Honorable William Shakespeare Esq, lately of Stratford-upon-Avon, who had one of his villain characters , Brutus, say this to Julius Caesar, his king:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Despite the distinct undeniable possibility that "
floods leading to a fortune" was the main incentive to some in MCGM, it is clear that the "shallows (Shakespearean for potholes) and miseries" of the monsoon continue, whether the tide is taken at the flood , or omitted. Luckily, for the harried populace , and despite the hype about tides, we are not "afloat on a full sea", and thanks to the power stations of Reliance Energy (who have recently upped their charges), it is clear that "we must take the current when it serves". And as far as the "affairs of men" go, well, we do not deign to comment.

It is now the midpoint of the danger period of 24-26 July. Normal monsoon rain has fallen since yesterday. There have even been parts of both days which were sunny and bright. I have travelled in decent dryness to two of Mumbai's far flung suburbs. We have had wonderful monsoon winds and a couple of mean showers and huge waves. People landed up in droves to experience the waves. Folks went to work as usual based on the usually inaccurate and sometimes diametrically opposite forecasts by the Met office.

The tides continue to do their stuff, whether at 3, 4 or 5 metres. While the pictures of water on the streets was nothing alarming, what really hit the nail on the head, was the picture of our city's lady mayor, standing in forlorn isolation, watching the waves crashing and breaking her seaside compound wall . Like they do every year.

The above poetic wisdom appears in the play, Julius Caesar, and was supposed to have been dispensed by Brutus, Caesar's disloyal friend, before he went to war, as he wanted to talk about Opportunity and Chance.How we need to grab it, and how it sometimes happens only once, and so on.

Lets not comment on listening to advice from folks with dicey reputations, who stab and kill their kings. And their ideas about "grabbing" opportunity. I think they followed the wrong guy in this entire tides episode. Despite the Met office saying , again and again, that heavy rains were not imminent on these days. Sometimes it is better to believe the redoubtable Met Office instead of the traitorous Brutus. Talk about listening to Goondas....

I think the MCGM just blew it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Green life.....

I live , in what might possibly be the most wooded, residential area in Mumbai, meant for the hoi polloi; by that I mean, that we don't have prominent citizens residing here in huge houses, with elaborate security, and a ratio of house-to-yard , of the order of 1:50. But we are all hard working folks with jobs , and have worries like every other family in Mumbai, like the rising prices of gas, foodstuffs and education.

Cows are almost permanent residents of our area, since time immemorial, and know the campus like the back of their hoof. New students often wonder, as they emerge from a class and see a cow sitting outside the door, chewing the cud, and enjoying a relaxed morning, watching the "smart" bipeds rush around.

Since the entire area is not landscaped as such, we still have , what one may call pieces of virgin forest, and a lake which has crocodiles.

So it isn't surprising, that throughout the last several decades of my stay here, I have had occasion to hold my breath, at seeing a leopard flash by through the foliage, deal with 6 monkeys who entered my dining room on the 6th floor, and stare at a six foot cobra who lay across my path as I traversed the road to office, one sunny morning.

The leopard movement began when human encroachment happened in areas to the north, which were actually inhabited by these animals.

Our lake was a big attraction for drinking water. About 20 years ago, one night we were awakened by some fast motorcycles being revved and driven , on what was normally, a sylvan, quiet road on campus, on the banks of the lake, where we lived then. We rushed to the balcony , and were rewarded with the leopard flashing through the thick shrubbery, towards the lake , gold slicing through the dark, eyes momentarily glinting. Some students had heard about its whereabouts, the fellows were chasing around to see it, actually agitating the animal.

For a minute the motorcycles stopped outside. They pointed to the jutting promontory, and were talking of following the animal there on foot. I heard someone urge another to go, and the latter replied ," I don't think, I should, I am my parents only child !" :-) .

This conversation , heard in the quiet of the early dawn, was very illuminating.

By and by, the leopards explored various workshops and library areas on campus, and the students even designed cages in which they could be trapped and taken back to be released in the forest. The cows and stray dogs on campus breathed a sigh of relief. There was also the case of a guard in a building , nodding off, at night, near the elevator, at a lake side high rise, and opening his eyes just in time to see a leopard staring at him, forcing him into a silent scream and an immediate jump into the elevator, which he didn't leave till morning.

Monkeys of course move around, like us, in groups. They are fairly quick to urbanize, and have a keen eye on people who walk around with grocery bags. For some reason they love to spend their breeding season in our area, and it is not unusual to see older monkeys moving around in great style, with assorted junior family members, with a baby hanging upside down at the stomach , clutching on for dear life. When it is required, the baby will slide back to the monkeys back, and travel that way for a while.

I once had two different varieties of mangoes in a fruit rack on the dining table. One was the sweet , very expensive , Alphonso mango variety, and the other was a slightly cheaper, but tasty variety , called Pairi, which was the juicier one, but a bit less sweet.

A quiet Friday afternoon, and engrossed as I was, in reading something , I heard some thing , like someone fiddling around with jars in the kitchen. At first, I attributed it to the kids, but then the continuing noise alarmed me. I came out to the living-dining area, to see a floor full of peeled, half eaten Alphonso mangoes on the ground, a monkey dedicatedly, with single minded attention, trying to finish off one more, at the entrance to the kitchen, and one big and one small monkey fiddling around with the jar of peanuts in the kitchen.

I was dumbstruck, and was trying to rush to my son's room to call him , when I saw another monkey, sitting on the keyboard of the desktop in the adjoining room. Just outside , at the window , were two more monkeys , trying to get in, trying to cash in on the general bonanza.

While a general wave of dismissal, elicited a teeth baring defiant hiss from the leader of the pack, we soon found out that if you banged some rod to make noise, it worked. In the next 5 minutes, my children and I made enough of a racket with steel plates, and glasses and rods , and successfully got rid of the marauders, who squeezed shamelessly back through the window grill.

What was interesting , was that the monkeys had made a complete hash of the Alphonso mangoes (the expensive ones), but left the Pairi ones untouched. Smart. And the computer had booted. I can just see the monkey resting on Ctrl-Alt, and looking down disdainfully to its right, and generally giving Del a bang, out of sheer disgust.

While the current apartment on the six floor has not allowed snakes to visit, our earlier lake front place was very popular with them. It was an old apartment, and some of the tiles at the edge of the living room had risen above the others, creating a gap. I recall trying to pick up what I thought was a blackish wire, at the corner of the room, only to have it slither and move as I got closer.

Then there were the cobras. They would slither across the road from the lake into what passed for a garden outside. They had an uncanny ability to blend in with the foliage as they lay still. We would often find the skin shed by the snake in the garden, and sometimes even in our balcony.

And I have once stood in the walkway to the outside road, staring at an almost 6 foot cobra blocking the 6 foot width of the path, as my household help lady stood on the other side, waiting to come in. The lady, the cobra , and I just looked at each other, waiting for someone to blink. Actually we blinked, and in that instant the cobra had slithered into the next garden.

Snakes slithering down roads as cars drove by was not an unknown thing. We have a lot of pedestrians, always on roads , and every time you saw a bunch gathered , pointing at something, you could be sure it was a snake slithering after a frog, or just doing its thing , showing off as it slithered behind a gnarled tree trunk. Some of the snakes even had favourite areas. And were observed frequently in these areas, by people , who pretended this was all very normal..

No one ever tried to kill any of these animals. Occasionally, a leopard who had climbed two floors on to a landing in a building had to be tranquilised. But it was then taken back to the jungle and released.

There is something about living in harmony, tolerance , and occasional irritation with these quadrupeds, and snakes.

But maybe these animals are now evolving. I am not sure in which direction, and whether it is positive or negative.

They are probably bored of academic institutions. There is just so much you can learn anyway.

Like so many other folks, they probably view politics as a more rewarding career .

Which is probably why, it seems that a snake was recently found at the Orissa Legislative Assembly, while the assembly was actually in session. (Orissa is one of the States on India's eastern seaboard; Mumbai is on the western coast.)

The snake, reported to be of the poisonous variety, was found at 8 am, Where ? By the press reporters table.

The speaker thought it fit to adjourn the house.

How boring.

From a life where folks gathered around to watch your every move, to a situation where they evacuate the hall as soon as you arrive .

I guess politics is a slippery choice, but probably not for slithering types.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Art Associations of the pleasing kind.....

If you really think back to how Art got a Start, it will be very clear that what was mandatory there, was an artist, a medium, some tools, and an inspiration.

Go back to the Stone Age days, Shri Dagdu Flintstone probably saw so much of nature, and various beasts, on his daily forays to provide for his family, that he was terribly impressed and inspired , and immediately got down to carving his observations on the walls of his resident cave. These Cave paintings today tell us a lot about the lifestyle then.

By and by, the world progressed , and went through something like the Ice Age, which was a real test. This was the time , 25,000 years ago, that artists living along the Danube in Austria were inspired to create "Venus of Willendorf", the oldest known statue , 4.5 inches high, depicting a woman of exaggerated physical proportions. It is assumed by scholars, that this was a response to harsh and bleak ice-age conditions that existed then, and the artists created something that indicated their appreciation of fatness and fertility, something whose idea impressed the hell out of them in those dreary days.

By the time weather and other things improved, folks became smarter, and the Egyptians , by 5000 B. C., were into a stable agricultural existence. No one was desperate, and art with disproportional anatomy slowly coalesced into human figures with regular size anatomy, depicting actual day-to-day sizes. The artisans typically worked in groups, whimsical drawings were not encouraged, and you were supposed to be proud of regular , exact, accurate reproductions.

The Greeks, of course learned things like sculpting and quarrying techniques from the Egyptians, and although they had guys excelling in maths and astronomy and sciences, the artistic ones, were obsessed , with what was the "ideal" human body, necessarily an athletic one. They perfected the technique of making statues showing abnormally perfect human figures.

Why did each of these civilizations, emphasize different aspects ?

Its all about a neurological concept call "peak shift "; something that says, that our brain is hard-wired to focus upon parts of objects with pleasing associations. So if you were an artist, the tendency would be to reproduce human figures with parts that mattered the most to you.

Which has me worried .

I am speechless.

this .

Belgian artist Jan Bucquoy, the creator of "Musee du Slip" or underwear museum in Brussels, is someone whose work is rooted in the surrealist movement and inspired by fellow Belgian Rene Magritte, whose famed works include a painting of a pipe with the caption "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" (This is not a pipe).

(Big Deal. The last time I forgot salt in the veggies and said "there is no salt", NO ONE applauded; in fact some turned around and said, "Typical !".......Hmm)

He feels that artistically displaying underwears of famous people, framed conservatively in this way, indicates his utopian longing for an equal society. And so we have Sarkozy, Belgian King Leopold II, the Belgian finance minister Didier Reynders, Queen Fabiola of Belgium, Margaret Thatcher, and several famous artists , singers and politicians of Belgium, donating their innerwear for this museum.

What boggles the mind, is, what is the inspiration here ?
Is a bunch of boxer shorts framed and displayed , art ?
What does this say of a society that actually gives space to such a museum, and dignitaries who donate "unmentionables" for display ?

Or is it , that, now, since food , shelter and clothing have been achieved, as requirements for the citizenry, these have now changed from being basic needs to entertainment items ? Much like folks born in the lap of luxury,enjoy "slumming it", some summer for entertainment, , as they stay in a place infested with those that don't have enough to live on even otherwise , and then come back to describe the whole thing as "far out" and surreal .....


But I must add, one of my most abiding concerns this day, is the price of vegetables in the market. Its very, very important .

As a pucca vegetarian, I rejoice at seeing fresh veggies crowding the stalls, and then tears threaten to descend as I hear the prices. I have even stopped buying certain veggies. Some vegetables have just disappeared altogether from the market.

So, just in case someone in the year 2120, decides to study food patterns in the early part of the 21st century, in what was then part of North eastern Mumbai, I have created an art piece, which they can "accidentally discover .....

Like the statues with oversize, regular and idealistic bodies.

Like this artist guy from Belgium who is inspired by, for heaven's sake, underwear.

Like the neurological "peak shift" theory says, our human brain is hard-wired to focus upon parts of objects with pleasing associations.

I told you , I like cauliflower, radishes, tomatos, limes, bitter gourds, beets and fenugreek.......

Friday, July 17, 2009

Which was more fun ?

The day after Christmas in 1969. I was 19, leaving Mumbai for grad school in the US of A, and also flying for the first time in my life, anywhere. It was a BIG event. Lots of people had kind of hinted to my folks that sending abroad a daughter at the ripe young unmarried age of 19, was a very bad idea.

Nevertheless, they were intrigued, and the few days prior to my departure were like a festival , with relatives, well wishers (I like that word; and I often look for the opposite to appear : someone who has the guts to stand up and say I am here, and I am an ill wisher. So!), friends , neighbors etc, landing up to wish me.

entire bus was hired by the relatives, all on their own, to come to the airport. In those days (as opposed to now), you could go right up to immigration and customs, to wave at people. There were no airline "gates" at Mumbai's airport. (The domestic Santa Cruz airport functioned as an International airport whenever needed). You came on to the tarmac, and either took a bus to the aircraft, or you simply walked.

My entire departure was fairly dramatic as I played a sitar in those days, and I was carrying the instrument with me. One of my father's cousins who worked for Customs walked down with me to the plane. The Japanese stewardess who met us was told that I was his niece and she should take good care of me . (She did). That I was leaving, gradually began to sink in, and after climbing up the steps to the plane entrance,
sitar and all, I sort of turned to look back, only to see the entire collection of relatives and friends on the terrace of the airport, waving desperately to me. I gulped, and waved back. You know, how the PM, GWB, Obama etc wave ? Except they don't gulp, I suppose.

There was no email and chat in those days. There were no PC's , period. International direct dialling had not started in India, and one had to book calls. On reaching the US, my brother who worked there, arranged to inform folks at home about my safe arrival. Many times when we booked calls from India to the US, we used to make a list of what we wanted to discuss, and actually kept a ticking clock near the telephone, so as to avoid outrageous spending on saying Uh-uh-Hmm, and the like. It was also the fashion then to
shout on the telephone, because you were convinced the person wouldn't be able to hear across so many continents and oceans.

My folks in Mumbai, first heard details about me settling into my university, after 15 days, when my detailed letter reached them. (An airmail letter would take 10-15 days).

Cut to 2005.

August monsoons were on, and we had just emerged from the worst flooding on 26th July . The runway was spoiled by the flooding Mithi river, flights were being rescheduled in the daytime . (For some inexplicable reason, flights in India leave and arrive at exciting times like 3 am, 4 am etc.). There was huge uncertainity about whether the flights would go at all.

My son was leaving for his grad school in the US. While he had made a special trip a fortnight before to see his uncles, aunts and aging grandfather in Pune, only his immediate family of parents and sister went to the airport to see him off.

No one,
other than passengers could enter the airport concourse, and so he went in alone to check the baggage and then came out to wish us goodbye. Of course we now had cellphones, and I reminded him that just outside the flight gate they had courtesy phones from where he could call us free. For a while we peered through the glass pane interspersed with big cutouts of welcome signs,bank ads, and the like. Followed him as he spoke to someone, sat down to fill some customs and immigration stuff, and then he went where our eyes couldn't see. So we left to walk back to the parking lot. Before we could get into the car, the phone rang. He was sitting at the gate,waiting to board, and would email us from Singapore.

He did. The next we heard was a call from my brother from the airport in the US, saying that they could see my son arriving, and would give a call when he came out after completing the formalities.
Phone calls now were so easy it was like speaking to someone in the next room.

Email and chat have certainly removed a sense of anxiety that would pervade earlier when children left to go to far off lands. The Internet has also made the world a closed loop for news. So very often , I get some news about something in India. from my son , who has been reading it. Laptops have become de rigeur at school, and when you are not working (or sometimes even when you are), you have a chat or a news site in an alternative session.
Hardly anyone writes letters these days.....

In the old days, there weren't so many families with children studying abroad. Even the postman was thrilled when he brought you blue "air mail" letters in those days. Children collected stamps, and stuck them in albums and exchanged them. Today, almost every family I know has a child studying either in the US, or UK, or Germany or France or Australia.

In my time, when I got back 3 years later to Mumbai, several relatives were a bit upset that I had not drastically changed, causing them to miss out on practicing their smart comments. I didn't wear frocks, hadn't turned blonde, didn't even wear lipstick, and what was worse, I had started driving in Mumbai , the day I landed, after 2 years of driving on what they called, the "wrong side ", in the US. ( This is actually a feat, requiring more than automotive knowledge and understanding of driving rules. In Mumbai, it is not a science, but an art ) .

Whats more, I remembered my mother tongue, Marathi, and was still comfortable speaking it. (It was fashionable then to go to the US for 3-6 months and come back
unable to speak in your own language, and such folks were a target of constant ridicule and humor, which, amazingly did not bother them ....)

I often wonder how the world has changed. Today, information is available at one's fingertips. If you don't hear about something in some expected time interval, you get into a panic. If the Network conks out, you agonize over missing emails. There are so many sources of News, (all telling the same thing), but you read all, to make sure whatever it is, is true and happening.

Has it gone too fast ? Too slow ? Is all this
instant communication really required ? Is all that effort , (required in attending to instant digestion of, and response to information), reducing and even overburdening some of our other mental faculties ? Is that the reason young people today are seen to be stressed out?

Is there a mean speed at which our brains function in an optimum way, so that the EQ is taken care of along with our IQ?

Does anyone know? I would love to learn more.......

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In praise of traffic.....

Mumbai's monsoon is back with a vengeance. Flooded roads, floating trash, fallen trees, an occasional ruminating cow, umbrellas that flip backward in the wind, and a fine trickle of water at the back of my neck as I navigate on a narrow strip between a huge ditch and the oncoming traffic, trying to balance my shopping and the umbrella.

I am just back from a drenched visit to the local market, to get veggies and stuff. Between stepping in unusually and misleadingly deep slush, dodging bulldozers, getting my clothes (and sometimes even me), studded with a batik design in dirt, every time a bus passes through a loaded pothole , and glaring at motorcycle chaps who underestimate human girth as they try and drive between me lugging bags, and a bus, I have been avidly looking for some secret meaning in this mess.

The monsoon wouldn't be so bad , if it weren't for all this traffic. And since nothing changes, and only gets worse, it occurred to me, that maybe there is a different way of looking for advantages , if any, in it.

If we only learnt to see.....

Profits to be made from Mumbai's disastrous traffic ? And a chance to immortalize the preposterous potholes ?

I can already see the gleam in the eyes and hear the jingling in the pockets , of the opportunistic folks , lying (pun intended) in wait , amidst the powers that be.

Turns out, that there is electricity to be generated from all this traffic , going "thump" over potholes and speed breakers , the latter , invisible in the rivers of muddy water.

The Israeli scientists at the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa , have developed a road that generates electricity when traffic passes over it. Hundreds of rugged metallic crystals when put under pressure , generate electricity. So they are lined up in special pads buried under the road, and they create power. It is called 'piezo' electricity.
This piezo stuff has been known for ages, , but never used like this before. One truck can generate 2,000 volts, but to create useful electricity you need a lot of amperes too and that requires many pads over hundreds of metres and a high percentage of traffic. A kilometre of 'electric road' could generate enough power for 40 houses.

Then there is a chap called Terry Kenney who is making all the 2500-trucks-per-day truck traffic in the port at Oakland, Ca., USA, pass over some hydraulic tanks below the ground to generate electricity. The prototype power station he has designed , that he calls "Dragon", should generate about 5,000 to 7,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each day, or enough to power up to 1,750 homes.

How can the Japanese be far behind ? The vibrations of every passing vehicle are now being turned into electricity powering one of 108 LED (light-emitting diode) lights on the GoshikiZakura Ohashi bridge over the Arakawa River in Tokyo's downtown Adachi Ward . The LED light shines because it is connected to 10 generators set beneath the roadbed of the Metropolitan Expressway crossing the bridge, where vehicles' vibrations make the pendulums in the generators swing and so generate electricity.

The Israelis and Japanese folks are also using trains and train stations to capture, the pressure on the ground, of millions of rushing footfalls, to generate electricity. Probably enough to even light up the stations.

I can see several ways we can benefit.

The suburban train system, with its overflowing passengers adding considerable weight to the compartments will be ideal for putting pressure on some piezo type crystals embedded below the rails. Train stations will simply glow at rush hour, and the train terminii that see millions of footfalls a day can probably generate enough electricity to be able to donate some, to power those living close by , who have a life, but no electricity.

No dependence on rain, cheating multinationals like Enron, corrupt politicians, and lopsided national policies .

The arterial road outside our campus, which has been under construction for donkey's years, and has several unlighted stretches, (causing several accidents at night), is probably ideally suited for installing these crystals or hydraulic pads or whatever. You can even save the digging costs and sign a Memorandum of "Understanding" (MOU) with the diggers, who could be the municipal types, the telephone types , or the simple road-digging types.

Every time you go "thump ", in a pothole, you are doing public service, and never mind your shock absorbers. Every time there is sudden braking at speed because a cow is meandering across, you have double credit, because you generated power and saved a cow.

Contractors assigned road work will now start collecting carbon credits based on how many potholes get recreated in how much time, again and again. They were already doing that to make money anyway; the potholes, that is. The already existing , but unmentioned nexus between municipal staff and road contractors that specialises in maximizing costs to maximize a percentage cut, will simply make all go ballistic and delirious with greed.

You dig, we give you lights.

But this being Mumbai, there will have to be various built in safeguards.

Like, most of this crystal stuff will have to be strongly water proofed. The monsoon has never deterred the municipal types from leaving open gaping manholes, where work could be in process. Maybe this is a helpless situation in view of several folks who make a career out of stealing manhole covers and selling the metal . It's possible that the sheer pressure of flowing monsoon water could wash away entire crystal units and deposit themselves elsewhere, giving electric shocks to unsuspecting folks, in random places.

The water supply department and telephone department, who always point fingers at one another when careless digging causes problems, will now have another place to point fingers : The automatic electricity department.

The invisible set of goons in Mumbai who specialise in drawing electricity for free, from random connections , and selling it to deprived folks living in slums, will need to be kept out of this. Science has never deterred them, powered as they are by political blessings in the form of some one's inability to notice...... Or you will see a patch of road in darkness while a wedding takes place in full illumination , in an area that had no power till last week.

The nice part is that this will reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The bad part is hat it will give an excuse to increase the number of cars in Mumbai, something already bursting at the seams. Because the technology is easily locally creatable, and implementable as and where traffic passes, the government will be discouraged from charging toll, every time it introduces a new facility.

I just hope they work out some scheme whereby I get lit up with some electric exciting thing, as I make that 7 second dash across the road to cross it , given the very bad ,unable-to-stop traffic that threatens to knock me down at the signal.

No, this wasn't a practice session to make the Olympic sprint team. I am more the hurdles-with-tomatoes type. But they didnt call me for trials out of consideration for the actual hurdles.

Maybe the pedestrian crossing can emit sparks as I cross, tomatoes, brinjals, cucumbers , beans and all, totally lit up for the world to see.

Possibly, even the limes....

My 7 seconds of the limelight.... :-)..

(On a serious note, one realizes that this kind of technology is expensive; but if properly initiated and implemented, it will benefit the common people of Mumbai, who travel in buses and trains, and even walk, when things get very expensive. It makes sense to have stations and roadsides nicely lighted. And this technology will pay for itself in the long run. The cost of fuelled cars driving over the roads will be set off against the electricity produced.

Where do you get the money ? The eternal question !

The same place where you got it for the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, now supposed to be the Rajiv Gandhi Setu (=bridge), which actually benefits only the car drivers , who pay a toll, through their nose, wanting to drive to South Mumbai, which is already congested. This Sealink does not allow 2 wheelers and 3 wheelers, besides 2 legged entities, with or without payment. And none of the worthies patronizing the Sea Link will help produce Electricty...)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.

About 50 years ago, folks in the family got the first inkling about my poetic tendencies.

Any event in the family was good enough for me to get going with a paper and pencil, snuggled up in some corner with some raw mango and tamarind pieces, along with some salt and cayenne pepper , just stuff to nibble on, as I came up with all kinds of poetry, that celebrated things as diverse, as my best friend's father getting a national honor, someone having surgery (complete with anatomy details), Nikita Krushchev's visit to Pune (my hometown), the terrible dam-burst-floods (July 12, 1961) in Pune, and visits to various relgious pilgrimage places we went to, as a family.

Most of this poetry was in Marathi, my mother tongue, and some of it was published in magazines, and was once even recited by me at 9 years of age, on the All India Radio children's program, Balodyaan , where the compere kept signalling to me to pipe down my volume :-)......The intervening years saw me making poems for folks retiring at work, for a well-liked yoga instructor (with details of exercises), and countless poems to celebrate the engagements of daughters of various friends.

The prominent feature of all this great poetry then, was the rhyming.

A few years ago, my late father, in one of his demento-geriatric anti-paper, anti clutter phases, suddenly dispatched a file to me in Mumbai, through his visiting grandson. In a divine intervention, in what was a "get rid of this paper" campaign in his house, he recognised the file in which he and my mother had painstakingly kept some of the cuttings of newspapers and magazines where my poems appeared, and had it sent to me before it got unknowingly unmindfully trashed . (Read this).

Today, many many blogs (in prose) later , at a different stage of my life, the poetry is coming back. It no longer needs to rhyme, and is often triggered by events, inside and outside the family, anger, confusion, frustration and appreciation .

I've been commenting lately on some blogs in verse form. As well as writing verse on my own blog .

And so I now introduce "Strewn Ashes", my poetry blog. Despite what may appear to be a morbid name, the blog has a fair amount of cheery stuff.

Isnt technology amazing ? Years ago, my father was the archive. Today, he is no more, but technology has changed , the poems are paperless, and I dont need to do anything to archive....

Have a look. There is Indian music on the site if you get the urge to shake your head or tap your feet, and it disappears if you hit the back button :-)

Click "Strewn Ashes " ............

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mind Mango Musings

Life is a set of travels through a bunch of squares. Sometimes, again and again, one gets back to square one. But one learns to learn. And if you try hard enough, you get to avoid the snakes to climb up a ladder.....

The Mind Mango
ripening in anticipation
of someone's
golden future;
Wishful foliage,
Green and hopeful,
Blossoms nodding
on an indulgent tree,
Unfolding ,
hopeful of the fruit,
of the effort......

shifty rains hoodwink
your logic,
Dark but willful clouds
Parching the blossoms,
you remain,
a slogging tree
struggling to
push the sap to the leaves
and branches,
and although skeptical
at the roots,
urging the blossoms
"Wait! Dont give up !
These days too shall pass
and life will be ,
Sweet and Golden Yellow,

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A dog's life.

Read this. And then this . Then marvel at the availability of Rs 1600 crores (1 crore = 10 million) available for the mollycoddling (The Bandra Worli Sea link) of the automobile lobby. And the pseudo-urgency of erecting statues in the ocean (at a similar cost), in honour of a king , who would have been aghast at the skewed priorities of the Powers-that-be today. When so many other things cry out for help.

Some are dogs,
Some live that life,
Both watched by those,
Drunk on Power...

Some led by chains,
Inhaling, as the ozone
masks the evicted,
undigested, documented
Stiff rules now,
Drop and Pick up,
And the chained ones,
wag their coiffured tails,
and smile,
wondering about
The Powerful,
The Shameless Ones.

Far elsewhere,
chained by the have-nots
but chased by life,
She ventures in the dark
of an eerie dawn,
others alongside,
tumbler in hand,
seeking a place;
Eyes darting,
Seeking relief somewhere,
an airy promenade,
but wild growth,
Fear creeping around,
beside a station wall.

again and again
drunk with power,
They provide for actual dogs,
and ignore
those unfortunate ones,
treated as some...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Elephant memories

Elephants appear to be frequently in the news these days. Not real live elephants. But current happenings, described with links to elephants.

The Bandra-Worli Sea Link off Mumbai's coastline is supposed to weigh as much as 50,000 elephants. One of the Chief Ministers of our biggest state, Uttar Pradesh, has a statue addiction, and her idea of being immortalized is to have huge parks designed with statues of herself and her mentors, along with 60 elephant statues , all in marble, the said animal being the election symbol for her party. Which did very badly in the recent elections.

If I were an elephant, (opinions differ on the tense used), I would be mortified with all this wild expenditure.

My earliest acquaintance with elephants, dates back to 52 years ago.

My parental house was within shouting and running distance of Peshwe Park in Pune. This was then considered to be an area very much on the outskirts of the city. Traffic would kind of disappear after dark, there were rumors of a ghost living on a tamarind tree opposite the park, and at night, you could often hear the screeching sounds of peacocks and roars of the tigers.

The park soon acquired an elephant, and she was called
Sumitra. They built a wonderful huge garage/hangar type thing for her, with a huge open space outside. Weekend mornings would see us standing on the fence railings, and enjoying ,watching the bath, she was being given. Once in a while the trunk would move through a huge bucket, and there would be a spitting shower of water in one direction, that kept us enthralled. Occasionally, on a very hot day, she would be inside her "garage" and the keeper would importantly shoo us away saying ,"she is sleeping". Later on , in the evening, they fitted her with a contraption that allowed her to give rides to people across the park, as a mahout sat at the head. I have great memories ,
seated on her back, of ambling through the park, with what can be only described as a definitive low frequency wavy simple harmonic movement of her posterior, which had all of us swaying in unison with her.

Elephants were also part of my cultural life.

Young Hindu Brahmin boys, go through a ceremony called
Munja or Upanayan when they are around 8 years. My younger brother and 2 cousins were about to have their Munja, and because we all lived in the same premises , albeit separately, there was huge excitement as the preparations got under way.

Traditionally, in the old days, boys went to residential camps where sages presided over their education, physically, mentally, and spiritually. There was a celebratory depiction of the child leaving his mothers fold to become a student disciple. Amidst various religious ceremonies, that involved learning of some ancient Sanskrit verses, prayers, rituals
, this ceremony was performed to celebrate the initiation of the child into the "learning stage".

There is one ritual that has the boy standing at his mothers doorstep with a bowl, saying a certain Sanskrit phrase and the mother putting food , as alms, into the bowl.
It implies having to work for what he needs. Many mothers are in tears when this ritual happens. In today's world, no one really goes anywhere after the Munja, but it tells the child that babyhood is over, its time to get serious about school. This ceremony is called "Bhikshaawal". (= giving of food as alms) .

The then (n my childhood), modern tradition was , that , in he evening, the boys be taken in a procession accompanied by bands and lights, and celebrating relatives decked in their finest, to pray to at the generic city temple dedicated to your family deity. After returning from this visit, the ritual of Bhikshawal was done. Sisters of these boys , had a role to play during the day too, standing with pots of water and mango blossoms etc, and since my cousin sister was very young, I had a sort of key position there, with fancy new clothes, and aunts oohing and aahing about the constant changes of clothes, and lots of other cousins kind of trailing me around.

Normally , the procession in the evening was done in a highly decorated (with flowers) open car (like you see in pictures of Lord Mountbatten etc), in which the boys and their sister(s) sat, along with some semi invisible elder, to ensure there were no fights and mischief.

However, someone in their wonderful wisdom, had arranged to hire Sumitra for the event.
The cost was not earth shattering , but this was a first, and maybe the Park was looking to hire her out for short distances like this to earn some much valued revenue, , since we lived next to the park.

At 7 pm that evening, Sumitra arrived , with her mahout in his special ceremonial dress. The boys climbed in, with the expected tussle for seats. A stern look from the mahout, and a swish of Sumitra's tail made the fellows fall in line. I was about to climb in, given my special "maid-of-honor"type status, when some folks (who I consider jealous ladies to this day), wondered why my baby cousin sister wasn't part of the group. She was sent for, lifted to the top, and she sat on my lap. The band struck up some popular song, and the procession began, the musicians ahead, some kids trying to run ahead of Sumitra, followed by sauntering men and ladies in their finery, jewellery sparkling, some carrying their kids on their shoulders, some of whom simply fell asleep in the din.

You couldn't really go fast given Sumatra's ambling style
. But that gave us a lot of time to wave to people standing in their balconies , and we even saw some of our schoolmates there. This was something new for them, different from the usual decorated cars. There was huge excitement at the temple, where we got off to worship, and someone came and anointed Sumitra with vermilion and rice and fed her jaggery, and sugarcane , as she waited .

On the way back from the temple, we climbed back on to Sumitra's back, as if this was a routine thing for us. Half way home, and my little cousin sister decided she wanted to go to the loo. Immediately. There were frantic messages and gesturing, she started crying, and amidst the band, and people running back and forth, she was handed down to her uncle (one of the taller chaps). I am unaware of what happened later, but I was basically the queen of all I surveyed , as we ambled back to the house, along a different path now, again waving to folks we knew.

Back home , tired , after a day of intense activity and excitement, the boys went through their rituals, and the ceremony slowly reached a natural end.

I have great memories of the elephant Sumitra. Even after I left Pune and settled elsewhere, every time I took my children to the park on a visit to my parents, we would go see Sumitra. The rides had now stopped. The park was crowded. They weren't taking good care of the park. There was more emphasis on snacks and games. , slides, swings, seesaws, mazes etc, and the animals were slowly vanishing.

The last time I heard about an outing of Sumitra's, was in 1983, when India won the Cricket World Cup at Lords, the people stayed awake all night to know the result (because of the UK-India time difference), and someone came out riding Sumitra at dawn, ambling down the main thoroughfare, royally distributing sugar to the population on the roads, celebrating a wonderful win.

One fine day Sumitra passed away, after a lifetime spent entertaining generations of children in the Peshwe Park. Come to think of it, she spent most of her life away from her natural habitat. Never had to forage for food, like other elephants, never had the freedom to run wild in the forest, and fight with other animals, but wherever she lived , she brought great joy to an entire generation of children.

The newspapers featured the event.

Unfortunately, today elephants are remembered in connection with the concrete-marble-monstrosities of an over ambitious chief minister lady, a 1600 crore Rs ( 1 crore = 10 million) Sea Link bridge that caters to the automobile-enabled, even as others fight for their one square feet of standing space in the suburban train, as they strive to earn a daily living travelling to their place of work.

And I just found that GWB's political party in the US, has the elephant as their mascot animal.

It cant get any worse than that
. Sumitra would have shed tears through those heavily lidded artful eyes.......